An infamous incident in Dunblane, Scotland, is often referenced in discussions on gun laws and mass attacks in the United States and around the world. In 1996, the tragic shooting at Dunblane Primary School rocked the UK and caused significant changes in firearm ownership laws.
After 43-year-old Thomas Wyatt Hamilton slaughtered 16 victims in one morning, public outcry and activism pushed new legislation into effect, essentially banning handheld firearms in the UK. More than 20 years later, the atrocity in Dunblane continues to influence the discussion of gun control in the UK and elsewhere.
Scottish tennis player and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, a student at Dunblane, was walking into the gymnasium when Hamilton began his attack. Murray took cover in a classroom and survived. Though he initially refused to talk about that traumatic day, Murray's experiences have greatly shaped his views on gun control legislation. Since 2013, he has been an outspoken advocate against firearms and has used his platform to publicly speak out in the US, urging lawmakers to create more effective laws in the aftermath of continued attacks.
Hamilton's Attack Resulted In 17 Fatalities
On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton entered Dunblane Primary School and unleashed a firearm attack on a gym full of students preparing for PE class.
In merely three minutes, Hamilton fired 105 bullets, slaughtering 17 people, including 16 students between the ages of five and six, along with their teacher. He then turned his weapon upon himself, leaving a wake of carnage which included, in addition to the 17 casualties, 15 injured people.
This incident remains the most brutal of its kind in UK history.
Hamilton Was Previously Suspected Of Inappropriate Behavior With Children
Thomas Hamilton already carried a questionable past prior to his attack. The former Scout Master was fired from the position over allegations that he had inappropriately photographed underage boys. When the police questioned him, he denied the allegations, although he had reportedly also forced boys to sleep in his own quarters during expeditions.
Because of these accusations, Hamilton held a substantial grudge against the Scouts and his community. Even a local gun range rejected his membership, calling him "sleazy." Despite his history, however, he still owned a permit for his weapon.
After The Attack, Public Outcry Demanded New Legislation
News of the Dunblane attack shocked the British kingdom. Many Dunblane residents wondered how someone with Hamilton's history was able to legally own a firearm.
Hamilton's actions sparked public outcry for new legislation related to citizen-owned weapons. Families of some of the victims began the Snowdrop Petition, calling for a ban on privately owned firearms. The petition was handed to the government with more than 700,000 signatures.
Firearms Were Already Restricted Due To A Previous, Similar Incident
Dunblane was not the first time an attack had influenced legislation in the UK. In 1987, an unemployed laborer went on a six-hour-long spree in Hungerford, England, in which he slaughtered 16 people and injured 15 more. Similar to Hamilton, this culprit ended his attack by turning his weapon upon himself.
After the Hungerford incident, the UK government passed legislation in 1988 which banned all semi-automatic weapons; however, handheld firearms, the focus of the debate following Dunblane, were still legal at the time.
Proponents For Firearm Ownership Criticized The Ban Proposal
In the UK, one point of contention concerning the ban was the use of handheld weaopns by gun club members and those who hunt for sport. These groups criticized the 1996 proposal, stating the ban would result in thousands of lost jobs. Some people believed the ban would also demonize the hobby of sport shooting. A spokesman for Britain's Sportsmans' Society said:
Just because we enjoy [the sport] doesn't mean that we think everybody should be free to go into any shop on any street corner and buy a [weapon] without having some suitable checks. There is obviously a balanced position. What we don't like is being scapegoated.
The Snowdrop Campaign headed by the victims' families maintained that anything less than a total ban was an unacceptable compromise.
UK Lawmakers Passed A Ban On All Private Firearm Ownership
In the months immediately following the Dunblane attack, British government officials proposed legislation that would ban all handheld weapons over .22 caliber and require all others to be secured in club armories. The proposal also included stricter measures for applying for a license, reporting firearms to the police, securing gun clubs, and increasing school safety.
Additionally, the government implemented a national firearms amnesty in which 23,000 firearms and 700,000 rounds of ammunition were surrendered. The proposal became law in early 1997 and was followed several months later by an amendment banning all handheld firearms.